Everybody felt like it would happen. But nothing is ever 100 percent in recruiting. So even though it appeared for more than a year that Oklahoma was the school to beat for Midwest City (Okla.) High safety Will Sunderland, it was never guaranteed.
It is now. Sunderland cannot sign his letter of intent with the Sooners until February, but his commitment Sept. 13 might as well be that letter. He’s not going anywhere.
His commitment wasn’t a surprise. Most have felt for a while Sunderland is going to be a part of OU’s 2015 class. The timing, though, that’s another story.
“I had my official on that Saturday morning, and I wasn’t sure I was going to commit,” Sunderland said. “I just wanted to have fun and enjoy the visit.”
He was enjoying the visit, but it took a turn when Sunderland and his parents went into head coach Bob Stoops’ office and started talking.
He went from having a good time to deciding it was time to make that choice, time to make it official. Time to become a Sooner.
“He was talking about the university, and I went to my mom and said, ‘I’m going to do it,’” Sunderland said. “She was sitting down. My dad was standing up. I told Coach Stoops I want to commit to the University of Oklahoma.”
Stoops asked him if he was sure, and when Sunderland said 100 percent, the mini-party was on in Norman.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who has been there since day one of Sunderland’s recruitment, started celebrating. OU recruiting coordinator and Midwest City alum Cale Gundy had left for a few minutes only to return to find everybody celebrating.
The only people who might have been happier than OU’s coaches were Sunderland’s parents.
“I did not have a clue,” said Will Sunderland Sr., about his son wanting to commit. “It was a big surprise to me and my wife. We are real happy, totally satisfied. We knew the day was going to come, and there was something about that weekend. We felt so comfortable.”
Sunderland let the world know with one tweet he was ready to be at OU. No more hypotheticals in interviews, all about the Sooners.
What culminated Sept. 13 just hours before OU’s 34-10 win against Tennessee was actually a good 15 months in the making.
(Sunderland in May 2013 when not many people knew his name)
’I was just trying to do good’
Sunderland was name known around the state recruiting circles for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until after his sophomore season when things started to progress.
In spring practice before his junior season, Cale Gundy was at Midwest City’s practice. That was the start. Midwest City defensive coordinator Jason Sexton had been in contact with Gundy about Sunderland being a guy to watch.
“I was just trying to do good,” Sunderland said. “I was trying to have good technique, and then Cale Gundy was there at practice. I didn’t know he knew Jason or that he even went to Midwest City. He invited me and Roscoe (Gatewood) to the camp.”
Sunderland was one of the breakout stars at OU’s camp. He flirted with an offer right then and there. But Mike Stoops said he would need to see him in action during Sunderland’s junior season.
Following his camp performance, he was asked to stay on campus as the coaches showed him and Steven Parker around. Parker is now a freshman safety for the Sooners and Sunderland said Parker is one of the key reasons he decided to commit.
’Can I get another offer?’
That offer did come almost as fast as it possibly could have. Sunderland took an unofficial to OU’s first game against ULM on Aug. 29 and was offered right there on the spot.
“To get that first offer from University of Oklahoma, it felt real good,” Sunderland said. “I started thinking, ‘can I get another offer? Can I get another offer?’”
He didn’t have to wait long for that next offer as on an unofficial visit to Oklahoma State the following week he had one from the Cowboys.
Sunderland finished the season with 98 tackles and six interceptions. He had gone from a virtual unknown to anyone not in Oklahoma in the summer to a legit Scout 300 prospect that was ready to blow up beyond a regional level.
“It really wasn’t too bad,” Sunderland Sr. said. “I kind of took control of the situation. There’s a time you can call and a time you can’t call. A lot of people started to come up to us. After the offers, really, it was about maintaining and staying humble.”
’Time to get serious’
Sunderland made multiple unofficial visits to OU during his junior season. Talk about Sunderland committing to the Sooners started to surface around November and December.
It’s not something Sunderland denies, he was close.
“I was really thinking about doing it after the Del City game (Week 3, mid-September), but I decided I wanted to see what else was out there,” Sunderland said. “After my junior season, realized it was time to get serious and look at the players leaving and getting to know the coaches better.”
A junior day visit to OU was thought to be the time the commitment was coming but not quite. And the best was yet to come as a Big Ten power was about to shake things up.
(Sunderland is only the second player from the state of Oklahoma to participate in The Opening)
’I still couldn’t believe all this was happening’
Ohio State started to get in touch with Sunderland in the winter and the offer was made official in the spring.
It’s not just a big offer coming from the Buckeyes who rarely venture to Oklahoma to offer any prospect, but there was some real strong family ties to the university.
Sunderland’s grandfather, Sonny Sunderland, was a freshman on the Ohio State basketball team. He was teammates with legendary coach Bob Knight, but this was also during a time with freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity.
Sonny Sunderland left basketball the following season and joined the military. But that Ohio State connection went away.
It became the biggest obstacle in trying to get Sunderland to OU. This wasn’t just another offer, it was the offer.
“I still couldn’t believe all this was happening,” Sunderland said. “I had two great schools like OU and Ohio State. It was all a blessing.”
’OU will make you work for it'
Sunderland was set to announce at the Semper Fidelis All-American Game in January, but it felt like it would never last that long.
It was OU and Ohio State, but the Sooners were the clear favorite. Camp gave a great indication as Sunderland visited OU three times in a 10-day span, watching scrimmages and hanging out even more with the players and coaches.
The official visit was set for Tennessee weekend, arguably the biggest OU recruiting weekend in years. The Sooners had 14 official visitors. At this point, expectations were low on Sunderland committing because he’d had so many chances to do so before.
“Both of those guys are from California and came to Oklahoma for a reason,” Sunderland said. “They kept saying OU will make you work for it. OU will push you. Commit to OU and everybody is going to follow you. Come here and our classes can get a ring.”
Sunderland didn’t begin playing football at safety. His father recalls that move had to be made or his so never would have kept playing.
“When he was little, around 6 or 7 years old, he asked if he could play football,” Sunderland Sr. said. “I told him if you’re going to play, you’re not going to quit. He played, but he didn’t like getting hit.
“If you don’t like getting hit, then you got to run fast. So he moved to defense, and we’re just so proud of what he has done.”
With the commitment in the books, the only question became about that Ohio State visit that was already set for Michigan weekend.
After talking it over, Sunderland has decided to not take the trip. He wants everybody to know he’s 100 percent with the Sooners.
Besides, he’ll see the Buckeyes again.
“My sophomore year Ohio State is going to come to Norman so I’ll get a chance to see them,” Sunderland said.
His dad agrees.
“No, I don’t think we’re going to miss out on anything,” Sunderland Sr. said. “I’m a Sooner fan. I like Ohio State, but we’re home. This is what was meant to happen. I’ll back him up 110 percent.”